The real deal, or just really handy fly swatters?
Last year, a little book called He's Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys became The Bible for women who were tired of being jerked around and stuck in dead-end relationships. The book flew off bookstore shelves and helped push the book's title into pop culture lexicon, if only for a couple of months. Its authors, Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, even appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in September of 2004. You see, Oprah really loves the book, and if Oprah loves it, that means all women must love it. The authors sat in Oprah's big comfy white couch (probably the same one that Tom Cruise subsequently soiled when he proclaimed his "love" for Katie Holmes), and fielded questions from lovelorn women who just couldn't catch a break. Actually, Behrendt did most of the talking. I'm not sure what Tuccillo actually did. Perhaps she backed up her soul-patched friend. Either way, these women came up with the most convoluted stories ever told: she dated a linebacker and he would only call when he was in town to catch some booty; he told her that she was very special to him but that he couldn't be in a relationship right now…but for booty, there was never a bad time; she's successful and scares away men, except when they just want booty, and so forth. The audience waited with bated breath in anticipation of Behrendt's pearls of wisdom, which basically ended up being diverse ways of saying, "He's just not that into you!" Well, now. I better take out my pad and paper and write this down.
The appeal of He's Just Not That Into You is that it tells women what they can't bear to hear: he doesn't like you. Instead of hanging by a thread and wasting their time, the book says, women should be taking control of their lives and moving on to a man who deserves their time and attention. Amen! But is this all the book really says? After all, there are 176 pages in there, and that's a lot to fill with something that I was able to say in two sentences.
Unsurprisingly, He's Just Not That Into You veers from empowering women to look into their self-worth into dangerous The Rules, let's-play-games-to-land-a-man territory. In fact, most relationship self-help books tend to do this. They will tell you that you are one foxy mama who is independent and strong, and in the next chapter will tell you that you are stupid and that's why you can't land a man. Perhaps these types of books are successful not because they actually work, but because they prey on women's insecurities to the point where they will start to believe that a man with a Ph.D. who lives in a New York penthouse could really look into their soul and see what they're doing wrong. At the end of the day, women eat up these books, and the author receives a nice royalty cheque and retires by the fireplace with a good book (meaning: not the one she wrote). Think about it: if these books really worked, why are women, from Nantucket to Rome to Kingston, still having relationship woes? Wouldn't all the world's relationship problems be solved if these books were really that effective or helpful? The authors will tell you that this is because, somehow, these foolish women went off the "plan" or didn't follow through (which I will exhibit shortly). Yes, blame the faceless reader because they weren't able to follow vague, embarrassing, and often insipid instructions. It's always our fault.
The urban legend surrounding He's Just Not That Into You is that, during a story meeting for "Sex & The City," consultant Behrendt (they needed a consultant? For what…how to grow an effective soul-patch?) told story editor Tuccillo that a man was "just not that into [her]." Tuccillo gasped at Behrendt's infinite wisdom, and instead of firing him and his soul-patch, wrote this conversation into an episode of "Sex & The City": Miranda goes on a series of dates with some dude who gives her mixed signals, and while the girls coo and tell her nice things, Carrie's current beau, who happens to be sitting around shooting the shit with these women, interjects to tell Miranda that the man doesn't like her like that. Instead of saying, "Excuse me? Do I know you?," Miranda gets it and thanks him for saving her years of agony over this dude, as if a couple of dates automatically constitutes therapy. Behrendt and Tuccillo were so titillated with their story idea that they decided to fill a book with it. Incidentally, the only character on "Sex & The City" to ever read a self-help book was Charlotte. And if I recall correctly, this lasted one episode, and Carrie eventually made her realize she didn't need to read these kinds of books to find true happiness. For once, Carrie was right.
I criticize a lot for someone who doesn't read self-help books, so I decided to put the whining aside and check out what some of these books on the market had to say. After all, my concluding that they're simply bad as an entity would be like saying that single women are desperate…and that's obviously not what these books are trying to tell us, are they?
(Since I'm too cheap and uninterested to actually purchase these books, and doubt that the publishing companies would donate them to me knowing what I'm about to do, I decided to utilize Amazon.com's handy Search Inside! function. Unfortunately, that only makes me privy to about ten pages of the book, but I'm sure we'll all agree that that's more than enough.)
He's Just Not That Into You: The No Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys, Greg Behrendt and Liz Tucillo (2004)
For some strange reason, the copy on Amazon is yellowed, as if a disgruntled employee found it in a dumpster and, before scanning it, tried to burn it. Most of the first pages of the book are a collection of letters written to Behrendt. I'm not sure who these women are or why they would write specifically to him, but okay. A woman who became intimate with an old friend and hasn't heard from him since…a woman crushing on her gardener (Gabrielle from "Desperate Housewives" actually wrote in?)…a woman who received a man's number but wants to know if she should call. Behrendt's answer? Well, you can probably guess, and I'm kind of sick of typing it out. Unfortunately, I was kind of confused by the last "letter," which I thought was actually hopeful. He did, after all, give her his number. But Behrendt shoots me and her down with: "It seems like he gave you control, but really he now gets to decide if he wants to go out with you - or even return you call." Take note, ladies: short of a man humping your leg, he's just not that into you. Every situation in this book becomes a second-guess paranoia fest, and takes all the fun out of actually starting a relationship. Lady, I say you call him, and if he's a dickwad on the phone, count your losses and move on.
Behrendt enlightens us some more: "You might have to lead Johnny the Office Boy or Philippe the Exterminator to water, but you better not help him ask you out. Once again, ladies, a wink and a smile will do it." You see, I can't type out a response to this because I'm practicing my winks in the mirror. I will be as cunning as a water guide, but I will not succumb to him. Dammit, I will never ask a boy out, no matter how much I like him or respect him, because then he will just jerk me around and I'll end up lonely and single.
"Don't let him trick you into asking him out," Behrendt says later, reading my very thoughts. "When men want you, they do the work. I know it sounds old school, but when men like women, they ask them out." No, not old school. I'm just concerned, though: if they don't grunt as they ask me out, should I take it seriously? I'm already apprehensive about the direction of the book. First Behrendt answers letters from women who are obviously in a bad predicament. His advice isn't atrocious, and dare I say it - it might actually be helpful. But then he jumps straight into The Rules, and I want to weep.
Date Like A Man: What Men Know About Dating and Are Afraid You'll Find Out, by Myreah Moore and Jodie Gould (2001)
All right! I've always wanted to date like a man. Because men are…the master daters? (Trust me, that little tidbit is actually in the book.) I'm not sure; I suppose I missed the memo. Maybe because I was single for so long, they decided not to send me one. Each chapter in the book is laid out into subsections. They're interestingly titled: Men Believe There Are Too Many Women, There Is Too Little Time...Men Don't Talk About Relationships...Men Don't Feel Comfortable in Homes That Are Too Feminine…Men Don't Like Nags...Men Don't Like Women Who Are Fixated... Men Don't Like Wimps...Men Don't Like Women Who Are Wild. I am really into the last couple of sections, and take out my handy checklist to cross out "nag," "fixated," "wimpy," and "wild." Okay, four down, ninety-four to go in my quest to appropriate the right adjectives that will help me land a man.
The book begins with some psychobabble about cavemen and cavewomen and people dwelling in caves and I become bored and turn on "7th Heaven" to learn something. There's a part about some psychological study, as if throwing out statistics will have more weight on anything. But then, there's something interesting: "Although many girls growing up today are involved in team sports and have parents who teach them that education, career and self-exploration are also priorities, they are still getting the societal message that love relationships are paramount in their lives…Find yourself first, then settle." I am liking what they're saying.
But then the book kind of veers off again. Okay, in about one paragraph it told me to find myself, and in the next, it's asking me about what I want in a man. I need to make a list, and also call Moore my "Dating Coach," which I find kind of creepy considering I have no relationship with the woman whatsoever. It's too much work, and that's when Amazon cuts me off. The book has potential so far, but the later chapters and their antiquated titles still make me skeptical.
[ Will Christine realize her foolish mistake and succumb to the powers of self-help books? Part II of the article. ]